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The Impact of Sports-Related Concussions and the Role of Physiotherapy in Recovery

Sports-related concussions have gained increasing attention in recent years due to their potential long-term effects on the brain. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the brain's normal functioning. Athletes participating in contact sports such as football, soccer, and hockey are at higher risk of concussions.

The effects of sports-related concussions can be devastating, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating. Severe concussions can lead to long-term brain damage and even death.

Physiotherapy has emerged as a crucial component in the management of sports-related concussions. Physiotherapists can help athletes recover from concussion-related symptoms and improve their overall function. 

Our services in sports physiotherapy at Calgary provide concussion management that focuses on a gradual and individualized approach to rehabilitation. It aims to restore the athlete's physical, cognitive, and emotional function.

In this article, we will explore the impact of sports-related concussions and the role of physiotherapy in concussion management. We will discuss the signs and symptoms of concussions, the potential long-term effects of concussions on the brain, and the various physiotherapy techniques that can facilitate recovery.

Signs and Symptoms of Concussions

Concussions can cause different signs and symptoms. 

Some common ones are:


A headache is one of the most frequently reported concussion symptoms. It can persist for hours or even days after the injury. It may worsen with physical activity, bright lights, or loud noises.


Dizziness is another common sign of a concussion. You may feel lightheaded, unsteady, or need help to maintain your balance. This can occur due to disruptions in the vestibular system or damage to the inner ear, which maintains balance and spatial orientation. Dizziness can make walking, standing, or performing daily tasks challenging.


Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of a concussion. They can result from brain injury or other symptoms like dizziness, or headache may cause them. Nausea may persist for several hours to several days following the injury, making it difficult to eat or drink comfortably.


Confusion is a typical symptom of a concussion, characterized by disorientation or difficulty understanding one's surroundings. This can manifest as trouble following conversations, not knowing where you are or what time it is, or needing help to process new information. Confusion may last for a short period or persist for an extended time after the injury.

Memory problems

Memory issues are common after a concussion and may affect short-term and long-term memory. You may have difficulty recalling events before the injury (retrograde amnesia) or forming new memories after the injury (anterograde amnesia). Memory problems can be particularly concerning, affecting your ability to work, study, or manage daily tasks.

Sleep issues

Sleep disturbances are frequent after a concussion. You may experience insomnia, which is difficulty falling or staying asleep, or you may sleep more than usual (hypersomnia). Changes in sleep patterns can also include waking up multiple times during the night, having nightmares, or experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness. Proper sleep is essential for healing, so addressing sleep issues is crucial to concussion recovery.

Some symptoms may show up right away, while others might take hours or days to appear. It's important to see a doctor if you think you have a concussion.

Potential Long-Term Effects of Concussions on the Brain

Most people recover from a concussion without any long-lasting effects. However, in some cases, concussions can cause long-term problems, such as:

Post-concussion syndrome

This condition occurs when an individual continues to experience symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and cognitive difficulties for weeks or even months after the initial injury. These lingering symptoms can disrupt daily life and make it challenging to carry out regular activities. The exact cause of post-concussion syndrome is poorly understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of physical, psychological, and neurological factors.

Second impact syndrome

Sustaining a second concussion before fully recovering from the first can lead to a dangerous condition known as second impact syndrome. This condition can cause rapid and severe brain swelling, resulting in significant brain damage or even death. Allowing the brain ample time to heal after a concussion is crucial to minimize the risk of second impact syndrome. This sports-related concussion demands avoiding activities that could result in head trauma until all symptoms have subsided.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)

Repeated concussions or exposure to head trauma over an extended period can lead to the development of CTE, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. CTE is often found in individuals who have participated in contact sports, such as football or boxing, or those who have experienced multiple head injuries. CTE is characterized by the buildup of an abnormal protein called tau, which causes degeneration of brain tissue. Symptoms of CTE can include memory loss, mood disturbances, aggression, impulsivity, and cognitive decline. Unfortunately, CTE can only be definitively diagnosed post-mortem through examination of brain tissue.

Proper diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the risk of long-term effects and ensure a safe recovery. Additionally, preventive measures, such as wearing protective gear during sports activities and following safety guidelines, can help minimize the risk of sustaining concussions and their associated long-term consequences.

Physiotherapy Techniques for Concussion Recovery

Physiotherapy can help you recover from a concussion by improving your balance, coordination, and strength. Some techniques used in physiotherapy include:

Vestibular therapy

Vestibular therapy, or vestibular rehabilitation, is a specialized form of physiotherapy designed to address balance and dizziness resulting from sports-related concussion. It involves a series of exercises and activities that retrain the brain to use other senses, such as vision and proprioception, to compensate for the loss of function in the inner ear. These exercises may include gaze stabilization, habituation, and balance training. Vestibular therapy helps to reduce dizziness, improve balance, and increase overall stability, allowing patients to return to their daily activities more confidently.

Cognitive exercises

Cognitive exercises are activities designed to help individuals with concussion-related cognitive difficulties, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. Computer-based programs, puzzles, or other activities challenge the brain. They aim to improve cognitive function by stimulating the brain and promoting neural connections. Regular practice of cognitive exercises can improve memory, attention, and problem-solving skills, which can help individuals return to work, school, or other daily activities.

Neck exercises

Following a concussion, neck muscles can become weak or tight, leading to headaches and reduced head control. Physiotherapy for concussion recovery often includes neck exercises designed to strengthen and stretch the muscles surrounding the cervical spine. Patients can experience reduced headaches and improved head control, leading to increased comfort during daily activities.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is an essential component of concussion recovery. Light aerobic activities, such as walking, cycling, or swimming, can help improve blood flow to the brain, promoting healing and reducing concussion-related symptoms. Aerobic exercise should be performed at a low to moderate intensity, ensuring that the heart rate remains within a safe range. It is important to gradually increase the duration and intensity of aerobic activities, as tolerated, to avoid exacerbating symptoms. Regular aerobic exercise can help speed up recovery and improve overall physical fitness, making it easier for individuals to return to pre-concussion activities.

Over to you

In conclusion, sports-related concussions can significantly impact an athlete's physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. Early recognition and management of concussions are crucial in reducing the risk of long-term consequences. Physiotherapy has a vital role in concussion management and can aid recovery. The physiotherapist's expertise can help athletes safely return to sports by implementing a gradual return-to-play protocol and developing a customized rehabilitation program to address the athlete's specific needs.

Working with a physiotherapist specializing in concussion treatment is essential to ensure the best possible recovery.

Our physiotherapists can help with your sports injury, a concussion, or any other health matter at Port Physiotherapy. The clinic's team of experienced physiotherapists will thoroughly assess the athlete's concussion and tailor a treatment plan based on their needs. 

The clinic offers various services, including concussion education, symptom management, vestibular rehabilitation, and exertional therapy. Athletes can receive the best care and support during their concussion recovery journey by booking a session at The Port Physiotherapy.